Padraig Harrington refuses to believe he’s finished as a major contender. Far from it.
Not only that, the determined Dubliner is convinced that Tiger Woods will storm back to form and smash Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins.
Speaking at the official opening of the trophy-packed “Harrington Room” that his lifelong club Stackstown has dedicated to his incredible achievements, the 39-year old insists he’s not ready to be written off as a museum piece just yet.
Major stars never know that their time has passed until they look back at the end of their careers. But Harrington’s main focus right now is to win more majors and force Stackstown to build an extension to his memorabilia room.
Insisting he’s never settled for his three majors and conceded internally that his best days are already behind him, the three-time major winner glanced around the display cabinets, smiled and said: “I think there is room for them to squeeze another trophy or two in. But no, I wouldn’t be that type of guy to be complacent.
“I could sit back and look back and maybe I will in time and say - ‘That was great, I won x amount of Majors’. But that’s not me at the moment.
“I always tell the story of playing a practice round with Nick Faldo. It must have been close to 2000, maybe 2002 or so, and his competitive career had probably come to an end.
“I played a practice round with him, nine holes, and he really grinded. At the end of nine holes I said to him ‘you were really grinding there’ and he said ‘yeah, I’d love to win just one more.’
“Major winners always want one more and they think that one more will actually make them happy. But the one more won’t make them happy; they want two more then.
“But I’m in the prime of my playing career. I believe I’m going to play my best golf going forward — I absolutely think that the best is yet to come.”
In the eight majors he has played since capturing his most recent grand slam win at the 2008 US PGA, Harrington has missed four cuts and recorded just one top 10 finish at the 2009 US PGA where he took an eight at the eighth hole in the final round.
If he never wins another major he will have no regrets, but right now he’s happier than ever about his game and his chances of more glory.
“Obviously if I talked about the season so far, it hasn’t gone as well as I would have liked as far as results are concerned,” he said. “If I talked about how I was feeling about my game, I’ve never been happier. From both fronts obviously it would be nice to be showing some results, I certainly played well at Doral, I didn’t play the great the first day at Transitions but played very well the second day.
“Yeah, I could do with some results, there’s no doubt about that. But saying that, I’ve probably never been as comfortable with my game ever. So on that front I’m happy.”
It’s a familiar Harrington condundrum. His results are so-so and yet he’s more positive than ever.
“Yeah there would be a contradiction in terms of the short term. I don’t believe there will be a contradiction over a period of time.
“So if you’re happy with your game and things like that, the results will follow. Always it’s hard to push them in a shorter period of time and so far this year it really hasn’t been my…I haven’t had my weeks or weeks so far. I’m waiting patiently and looking forward to every opportunity I get to play.”
Harrington does not believe in the confidence you gain from short term success. It’s the self-belief that comes from years of preparation that really gives him the feelgood factor inside and not his most recent round.
“How most people look at confidence is fleeting, so self-confidence is the important thing and I have plenty of that. That’s the only thing that lasts in this game. It would nice to have that fickle confidence that most people think about but I know that’s fleeting, it comes and goes.
“But I’m pretty solid when it comes to the self-confidence, and what I’m doing and that the more permanent and more controllable…we’re getting into it quite deep now, obviously the confidence you’re talking about is externally driven while the confidence I talk about is internally driven and I have plenty of that.
“I feel good about my game and what I’m doing. That’s the important thing to drive results over a period of time. It would be nice to turn up and hole a 25-footer on the first green, kind of a bit like I did in Johor (his most recent win came in the Asian Tour event last October) there four months ago when I won, I holed a couple of putts the first day and life was easy, or golf was easy.
“But you know that is a fickle thing and I don’t necessarily worry about that. It does come and go, that’s why you see players win one week and they’ll look like world beaters, then they might miss the cut the following week.
“They’re always depending on how they feel about the game, rather than how they feel about themselves.”
Looking forward to future major glory and the Masters in two weeks’ time, Harrington reflected on his achievements so far in the majors and said: “It would be hard to cap the results I’ve had, but we’ll see if we can do that.
“There’s no point in trying to stand still or hold onto what you had because you don’t know what you had, if you know what I mean.
“It’s not something that’s tangible enough to go out the following week and keep it — that’s not the way golf goes. You have to keep trying to improve.”
With just two weeks to go before the first major of the season, all eyes in Bay Hill will again be on the two favourites for the green jacket in Woods and defending champion Phil Mickelson.
Woods joins Graeme McDowell in the Arnold Palmer Invitational today hoping to end a 16 month victory drought.
But while many believe we’ve seen the best of Tiger, Harrington still thinks he’ll beat Nicklaus’ record and win at least 19 majors.
“I’ve been watching him and I fully believe that Tiger’s going to win plenty of tournaments,” Harrington said. “I still believe he’s going to get through that barrier of 18 majors.”
Many wonder why Woods has been installed as the favourite for the Masters given his erratic form since he started working with the Canadian swing coach Sean Foley and his struggles with the putter. But Harrington knows that most players in the Augusta field are probably wishing they had as good a chance to win as Woods.
“Tiger’s in the great position that if he turns up and plays well — and he is well capable of doing that — he will probably win. A lot of other players have to turn up, play well and probably get a few breaks on top.
“He mightn’t have the consistency of a run of winning, but up to now he has, what, 14 majors in 14 years? He has one major a year and he will probably keep to that record. And it’s not inconceivable that he will get hot again and have a year of ten wins.
“If he gets a week when he holes a few putts, all of a sudden you talk about him being on top of the world again.
“He really isn’t that far away — put it like this, there are very few players who wouldn’t want to be in his position going into the Masters. You’d go very far to find a player who wouldn’t swap his chances for their own chances.”